Employers take note
No action over employee discord could land you in court, liable for injuries
EMPLOYERS beware – you could be held liable for injuries suffered if employees get into a scrap at your workplace.
That’s the outcome of a claim affecting a Gold Coast business and Brisbane injury compensation law specialist Trent Johnson says all employers should take note after the employer was found liable for injuries suffered by one of its employees in the workplace when a co-worker assaulted him.
A simmering row between two workers working physically close together at the Top Cut Foods food processing plant at Burleigh Heads caused tensions which led to an assault by one worker on the other.
Trent Johnson, an accredited specialist in personal injury law and a director with Brisbane firm Bennett & Philp Lawyers, says the biff found its way to the Southport District Court for determination before His Honour Judge Kent QC.
“Central to the claim was the employer’s state of knowledge as to the potential risk of injury to the employee assaulted by the other worker. The worker responsible for the assault had a criminal history for violence and had earlier been dismissed from the employer following a verbal argument,” Mr Johnson says.
“When the man was re-employed by the employer, he was asked by a supervisor who was aware of the previous incident if he had changed. He responded that he was more aware of his ‘triggers’. “So it comes down to the issue of the employer’s knowledge of the potential risk of injury to its workers from the re-employed worker.”
The lesson from the case is one worth sharing among all employers because it shows an employer can’t necessarily ignore simmering tensions in the workplace.
The injured worker cited several events that placed his employer on notice of a risk of him suffering injury from the other worker.
“In the few months leading up to the assault the injured worker had raised concerns about his co-worker’s behaviour to his supervisor, a complaint had been made to the supervisor by the co-worker about the injured worker and the supervisor had witnessed the co-worker loudly abusing the injured worker on the day of the assault,” Mr Johnson says.
Things came to a head in January 2014 when one of the workers was punched to the back of the head and to the face until two co-workers physically restrained the attacker, who also hit one of the intervening co-workers.
“In court the judge highlighted the duty of care owed by an employer to an employee, indicating that the duty may extend to protecting the employee from criminal behaviour of third parties, including fellow employees,” Mr Johnson says.
“So should the employer have been aware of a foreseeable risk, and taken action to prevent the confrontation before it happened? Two significant points here noted by the judge point to the employer being on notice of the assaulting worker’s prior criminal history and knowledge that he had misbehaved at work previously.
The employer was found to have failed to provide training to their supervisor in personnel management or de-escalating conflicts between employees.
Taking all of the evidence in consideration His Honour found the employer could have moved the two men away from one another and had this been done, the assault would likely not have happened.
This and other factors meant the assault was foreseeable so the employer was negligent in not taking action beforehand.
The employer was found to have breached its duty of care to the injured worker and the breach was considered causative of his injuries because it materially increased the risk of him suffering the injury which eventuated.
In the event the injured worker’s damages were assessed at $584,995.09. Mr Johnson says the very clear lesson to all employers from this case is the extent to which employers can be found liable if they fail to take prompt action over employee discord.
DUTY OF CARE: Employers could be held liable for injuries suffered if employees get into a scrap.